Boxing


Is Vitali's comeback bad for Wladimir?

25.01.07 - By Hunter Breckenridge: The boxing world has just erupted with the news that former WBC and Ring heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko is planning to return. He is clearly interested in an immediate title shot, which will likely spark legal action from the WBC's top contender, Samuel Peter. Peter does have a legitimate claim that he has earned a shot at WBC titlist Oleg Maskaev. He has twice defeated a top ten fighter in James Toney, and has been repeatedly promised a chance to fight for the title.

Despite Peter's grievances, there is someone else with more to lose if Vitali does come back. Vitali's younger brother and current IBF champion, Wladimir, might benefit the most by having Vitali remain retired. Wladimir has stated that it is his goal to unify the alphabet soup titles. If Vitali manages to secure a title shot against Maskaev, he will most likely (but not definitely) emerge the winner of such a contest..

That would make unification impossible, as the Klitschko brothers have repeatedly stated they will never fight each other. The best Wlad could hope for is partial unification as long as Vitali holds a title. Also, if Sam Peter manages to get his shot against Maskaev and wins, then Vitali might take on Peter. Wladimir and Peter have unfinished business, and a Peter-Vitali match up will delay what could be a great rematch.

Having a brother in the limelight will likely prove to be quite distracting to Wladimir. He has improved a great deal in the past year, under the tutelage of Manny Steward. While I don't believe that Vitali could undermine Wlad's recent improvements, his presence could be a hindrance. Assuming Wlad successfully disposes of Ray Austin, he will have a lot of opportunities afterward. If Vitali is fighting for heavyweight belts, that will limit the number of fights and opportunities available to Wlad.

Wladimir is almost five years younger than Vitali and has a greater upside. Vitali had the potential to have a great run as champion, but injuries ruined it. Even if Vitali can stay healthy and win a title, he doesn't have a lot of time left. 3 or 4 more fights at a high level would be a best-case scenario. Conversely, Wladimir could have another 5 years at the top if he stays healthy. If Vitali performs poorly and doesn't win a title, that could negatively impact Wladimir's reputation. A lot of casual boxing fans can barely tell the difference between the bothers anyway. A bad loss or two by one brother may affect public perception of the other brother. And one would hope that the brothers don't achieve a 1-2 ranking by the Ring. That would guarantee no Ring heavyweight champion for as long as they both remain active and successful.

For some reason, the brothers Klitschko have not been able to perform well at the same time. After Wlad lost to Ross Purrity, many thought that Vitali would be the more successful brother. Then Vitali lost to Chris Byrd. Wladimir's subsequent domination of Byrd changed everyone's opinion once more. It became almost universally acknowledged that Wlad was the more talented brother. However, the tides of fortune would turn once more, as Wlad would lose to both Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. At the same time, Vitali would surprise many with a spirited performance against Lennox Lewis, followed by dominating wins over Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, (winning the WBC and Ring titles) and Danny Williams. Then Vitali was forced to retire due to chronic injuries, and Wladimir began clawing his way back up to the top of the division.

Since Vitali's retirement, Wladimir has stepped out of his brother's shadow, and has fought with increasing confidence. For Wladimir, this may be the worst possible time for Vitali to jump back into the spotlight. While Vitali certainly was a good fighter, and had the potential to be a very good champion, he is now likely past his prime. If he is successful in his comeback, his brother will no doubt be happy for him. However, that doesn't mean it will be good for Wladimir's career. And an unsuccessful comeback by Vitali may provide an equally unwelcome distraction for Wlad.

In the end, Vitali will do what he feels is best for himself. He may indeed win a title or two and enhance his Hall of Fame chances. And his success shouldn't have to be bad for Wlad. Wladimir will support Vitali like he always has. The brothers have demonstrated remarkable loyalty to one another. I would just like to point out that it may be in Wladimir's best interest if Vitali makes this comeback short-lived.

Article posted on 25.01.2007



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